“I have lived in Clearwater with my husband Harald and our daughter Ashleigh for the past 19 years. I am 60 years old and Herald is 63. When we first moved to Florida I knew we were going to buy a house and remain in that house throughout our retirement years. I first found work with the Pinellas County School system. I was happy to have good health care benefits and I became the primary benefit holder for our family.

A friend called me one day and said there was an opening at a Charter School in Dunedin, Academie Da Vinci, a school for the arts. I thought this would be a great opportunity for me, but leaving the school system was a tough decision and meant giving up the Florida Retirement pension and making some changes in the way Herald and I chose our health care coverage. Who was going to cover our family? I decided to take the risk and take a position at Academie Da Vinci as an Office Manager. Herald would now be the one to carry the responsibility of the family’s health care benefits.

Years went by, 12 years in fact, and in the meantime Harald and I were planning our retirement. Harald would retire at 62 and I would remain at my job until I turned 63. By the time I retired, Harald would be receiving Medicare benefits and we would pay out of pocket for my health care coverage.

In May of 2016, Harald retired. He adopted Cobra coverage and I took health insurance with my job. Unfortunately, our plan did not work out. As of July 1, 2016 I was no longer employed at Academie Da Vinci. I was left with no health care coverage and looking at the prospect of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Harald had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in June of 2015 and takes insulin shots twice per day.

I became depressed and my weight began to skyrocket. I had no desire to do anything and I was searching for a solution. I had never been without health care before and, like so many in this community, I found myself wondering, how did this happen to me and what am I going to do?

One morning, my sister Michele called. She said, “Get dressed. I’m taking you to the Clearwater Free Clinic.” Michele knew of the Clinic because the doctor she works for had treated quite a few patients referred to him by the Clinic. I really didn’t feel at all like getting dressed and thought there was no way I could actually get treated by a doctor for free.

The first thing I did was look at the Clinic’s website. It said free health care. All you have to do is make a donation: whatever you can afford. I actually couldn’t believe it.

I got all of my documentation together and off we went. When we arrived, the first person who greeted us was so friendly, made me feel so comfortable, that I immediately breathed a sigh of relief. I had never imagined myself being in this position needing a helping hand. I just needed a hand up, not a hand out.

Maybe I could get the help I needed – just maybe.

I filled out the paperwork and provided my documentation and as it turned out, I qualified and was going to be able to see a doctor that day. I was not expecting this and had no cash on me for a donation. Little did I know, my sister had already made a donation on my behalf.

My mind was racing. I couldn’t believe there was a place I could go for my medicine, make a donation that I could afford, and see a doctor. I immediately started thinking how I could give back to this extraordinary program. After all, it is run only through donations. Donations from people who care about people like me.

Since that first day, I have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I am now on three different medications, all of which I get from the Clinic. I am also seeing a nutritionist who has helped me to lose 22 pounds (and counting!) and a behavioral health specialist who has helped me with my depression. Among these services, I have also received blood work, a mammogram and a pap smear.

Harald and I were even invited to join a Go Healthy class. This program consisted of a two hour meeting one day per week for a total of six weeks. Mary and Gloria, our instructors, became fast friends. We learned so much about the self-management of chronic conditions such as diabetes, depression, asthma and other physical and mental conditions.

I’m happy to say that the Clearwater Free Clinic has given me the inspiration I need to take better care of my health. I know that I am important. I am important enough that people have made donations to this very worthy cause to help people like me. With very heartfelt thanks to the donors, the staff and the volunteers at the Clinic, my husband and I are very grateful.”